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SMS has been a big boost to charitable giving. Now, says Cancer Research product manager, Lisa Elkins-Jarrett, new tools are making it even more effective.  Elkins-Jarret recently spoke to MEF Minute’s features editor, Tim Green, to explain how, for MEF’s free Future of Messaging Guide.

It’s no exaggeration to say that SMS has transformed the charity sector. Most people want to give, but some can be reluctant to engage directly with charities for fear of a ‘hard sell’. Text bypasses this. It’s straightforward and immediate. Read rates average at around 95 per cent.

For charities, which rely so much on spontaneous actions, this is very significant.

Lisa Elkins-Jarrett, product manager for marketing platforms (digital) at Cancer Research UK, says: “In a cluttered email world, SMS gives a chance to get across relevant and timely messages to supporters that help increase engagement and conversion.”

Selfless selfies

These factors have delivered phenomenal results, raising sums in short time that would have been unthinkable before. In 2016, for example, Cancer Research UK asked women to post a make-up free selfie and donate £3 using the hashtag #nomakeupselfie. They were then asked to nominate three friends to do the same. Inside 48 hours, the campaign raised over £2 million.

Another campaign – Stand Up To Cancer – seamlessly blended SMS donations with Gift Aid contributions. This helped to bring in more than £15 million.

Such successes have led to a huge increase in charitable text campaigns. However, the sheer popularity of the channel has led to complications. One is obvious: more texts equal more failures. Elkins-Jarrett says: “As more charities employ SMS, higher asks become more common place. We’ve seen failure rates increase, and with it, support cases rise too.”

Typical problems include people misspelling text to donate codes, texting the wrong keyword, or reaching spend caps and running out of credit. At the height of the problem, Cancer Research UK found failed messages were averaging at eight per cent and having a real impact on income.

Spelling fail

So the charity worked with its messaging partner OpenMarket to build more intelligence into its services. It installed a system to detect misspelt keywords and send automated replies explaining the problem. The text asked them to try again and reassured them that no money had been taken.

This remedy corrected 20 per cent of failed messages.

The charity applied the same approach to tell a supporter had no more credit or had reached a spend cap – and then gave options on how to rectify it.


Another challenge was to apply this intelligence to inbound customer service queries. The charity found that, the more it used its short code to drive engagement, the more people would reply with general questions. Typically, it would reply manually to these messages on a case-by-case basis. This was time-consuming, and the charity was concerned at sending answers at inopportune times.

However, on investigating the data, it found that three topics accounted for a third of all queries. It’s now planning to scan messages for key themes and then send an immediate bounce back SMS that answers the question.

Download the free Future of Messaging Guide now

The Future of Messaging Guide explores the uses cases, platforms and technologies that are changing the landscape of messaging globally. From A2P to OTT, chat bots to smart machines, we explore how the world’s most powerful medium is shaping up for tomorrow.

The guide features over 25 cross-sector case studies and exclusive interviews that examine the power of messaging in all its forms from the humble SMS and chat apps to emerging platforms and explores what’s next for messaging.

Download the Guide here for free.